I am new to lap swimming, and am loving this as my new adopted form of exercise.
With many activities, there is some new "lingo" to learn, new equipment to buy, and new fears to overcome. The health benefits make these hurdles worth the slight trouble, as swimming helps to lower high blood pressure, reduce stress, is low-impact on joints and muscles, it provides the same cardiovascular benefits of a traditional gym "cardio" workout. It also has the benefits of toning muscles (especially back, abs, and shoulders). To me, this is a great exercise to add into a regular weekly routine, as it can replace a cardio session AND a strength/toning session..all in one, or be a great addition to a cross-training routine. I also read that "swimming forces you to regulate your breathing and allows more oxygen to flow into muscles", which I had not heard before.
As far as weight loss benefits and calorie-burning potential, swimming at a moderate pace for 30 minutes burns as many calories as you would burn doing brisk walking for 60 minutes. Plus, it feels so great to be in the water, whether you are outdoors enjoying the sun (don't forget sunscreen!) or in an indoor heated pool. There is something about being enveloped by the water that is both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time.
I joined the YMCA, and have loved swimming in their lap pool. I know there are some pools at gyms that are extremely crowded, and having to share a lane (called "circle swimming") may not produce the relaxing environment that you may be seeking. However, I have found that if I do share a lane with someone, I work harder that day to "keep up" (and not get "lapped"), so I feel it is still a good balance of pushing myself on some days, working moderately some days, and relaxing on other days.
As far as the strength-training aspect, I have found this to be the best workout for me. I was doing a twice-weekly Free Weight Class, and my knees would ache after doing repeated lunges (and, I was using proper form!), as well as my shoulders. I found that by adding the hand-held paddles during my laps increases the resistance and is an amazing all-over arm and shoulder workout.
Something I learned from ACE (American Council of Exercise), is "that in the water, heart rate will be reduced by as much as 17 beats per minute when compared to land exercise. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to how you feel. Your heart rate might indicate that your intensity is too low when you are actually exercising quite strenuously."
When I was pregnant two+ years ago, I took a prenatal water fitness class with my good friend. As conscious as we were of our pregnant-selves being in swimsuits, the second we were in the water, we felt the weight lift off of us...literally, because the human body is buoyant and about 1/10th lighter in the water. It was a wonderful choice of exercise, as we were reducing our risk of injury from a traditional aerobic class, and still doing something healthy for our bodies (and our babies!) by engaging in physical activity. It was both a great workout, a stress reducer and felt oh-so-good to feel lighter, if only for an hour twice a week.
The U.S. Masters Swimming website has great information on "Getting Started" if you are interested in learning more. One important note when starting a fitness routine: "Remember, the speed and distance is not as important as the amount of time you swim. According to the American Heart Association, just 30-60 minutes of physical activity 3-4 days per week can help reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A regular physical activity program can also help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol."
I love knowing all of these health benefits, but for me, it is an exercise that I don't mind doing solo. My other forms of exercise are not as fun unless I'm running with a partner, dancing with a buddy or in a cardio class with a room full of people and an instructor pushing us. For some reason, my time swimming is when I can push myself to do more laps, in faster time, or work on lengthening my stroke and toning my arms. I love focusing on my breath, as it is relaxing, I visualize the increased oxygen getting into my muscles, and it creates a meditative state by controlling my breathing (instead of it being involuntary).
Do you currently swim for fitness? What do you love most about it? Are you choosing this form of exercise for a particular health reason, or was it doctor recommended? I would love to talk more about swimming!
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